A double dose of Complete Streets medicine in Olympia

There are now two Complete Streets bills proposed in Olympia this legislative session, with many thanks to Cascade-endorsed freshman House Representative, Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, West Seattle, Burien, Vashon Island). On Friday, Feb. 28, Fitzgibbon introduced House Bill 1700, arguably the most comprehensive state-wide Complete Streets policy the Washington state legislature has seen thus far.

Though the term “Complete Streets” is never used in the language of the bill, HB 1700 acknowledges that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) should provide not just for the needs of drivers, but also public transportation vehicles and patrons, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities when planning and implementing state transportation projects and programs. Because of the numerous documented benefits of using “active” modes of transportation (biking and walking) the proposed bill does three main things:

First, HB 1700 amends the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) to allow cities, towns, and counties to use the most current version of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) guidelines when designing bicycle and pedestrian ways. This is an important step forward for Washington state communities because AASHTO’s design guidelines are currently being updated and are generally more flexible and comprehensive than those in WSDOT’s Highway Design Manual.

Likewise, local jurisdictions are also allowed to meet the standards of an “equivalent design guide”, which may pave the way for local adoption of an even more progressive manual, like that produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). In short, communities will have a larger toolbox of bicycle and pedestrian design treatments at their fingertips, resulting in more innovative ways to get pedestrians and cyclists along and across local roadways.

Second, HB 1700 requires that WSDOT consult with local jurisdictions in the scoping, design, and planning phases of all state transportation projects. This includes clarifying community goals and priorities before the project even begins the design phases.

Lastly, when constructing, retrofitting, or maintaining streets, bridges, or other parts of the state transportation network, WSDOT must “consider the needs of all users” by applying design solutions consistent with the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ (ITE’s) guide on urban walkable communities. This is the essence of Complete Streets: that in all transportation projects and on all roads[1], the DOT must plan for and accommodate the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists of all ages and abilities, including children, youth, families, older adults, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and movers of commercial goods.

HB1700 already has 13 co-sponsors, including Cascade favorites Marko Liias (D-21, Edmonds, Mukilteo) and Andy Billig (D-3, Spokane). Even further increasing the bill’s chances in the legislature, the ranking Republican member of the Transportation Committee, Rep. Mike Armstrong (R-12, Wenatchee) is also a co-sponsor.

HB 1700 is not to be confused with House Bill 1071, which is also co-sponsored by Fitzgibbon and is supported by organizations such as Transportation Choices Coalition and Cascade, among many others. HB 1071 creates a Complete Streets grant program (pending future funding) that provides cities with incentives to adopt Complete Streets ordinances. The proposed bill also directs WSDOT to work with local communities to create safe roadway environments for bicyclists, pedestrians, and people of all ages and abilities on state highways that reside within incorporated cities. On Friday, Jan. 28, HB 1071 passed out of the House Transportation Committee.

With two Cascade-supported Complete Streets bills now in the works this legislative session, our commitment to Complete Streets in 2011 goes beyond the work we have recently done in our region. No town is too small and no jurisdiction is too large for what is the simple accommodation of all people who want to use the roadway, regardless of how they get around.

[1] With limited exceptions.